Ulbrich next NFL-to-MMA star?

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Crossing over into MMA from another sport, particularly professional football, isn't rare.

While many former National Football League players have taken a stab at MMA, most have met with short, rather unfavorable experiences. Michael Westbrook, Jerrod Bunch and Johnnie Morton all only had one fight each, with only Westbrook coming out on top, over Bunch interestingly enough.

Only former Indianapolis Colt and Arena Football League San Jose Sabercat Rex Richards has met with any success in the fight game, though he may not be the last.

Current San Francisco 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich has more than just a passing interest in MMA. He's a full-fledged fan, and has even used training techniques he's learned from the sport in his pro football career.

"I think from UFC 1 probably, that was my first introduction to it. I saw it and loved it, as many did," said Ulbrich of his initial exposure to MMA.

From there, the interventions of a former coach lead Ulbrich to one of the elite schools in the sport.

"Six or seven years ago, our defensive line coach at the time got us hooked up with a deal over at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose," he commented. "We worked with Danny Kelly and Javier Mendez; starting doing hand stuff and learning more about the sport."

Ulbrich explains his fascination with training comes from the varied elements one can work on through the sport.

"It was limitless as far as what you could learn," he stated. "There are so many different facets to it. Just the thought that every day when you train it can be challenging, something new makes it exciting to learn."

Ulbrich sees enough similarities between both MMA and pro football that he's cross-trained them together to become a more complete athlete.

"As far as the mental preparation for it, there is a ton of similarities," he commented. "I think it's a great way to develop mental toughness.

"It reinforces that great technique -- in any sport -- can overcome size, strength and a lot of obstacles where at first look it may seem like there's no chance. Technique is critical towards being successful in sports."

When it comes to which MMA fighter Ulbrich most tries to emulate, he has chosen one of the true masters of the sport.

"I'd probably say Fedor (Emelianenko), just for the pure fact that he's just so calm and the way he just explodes and is so precise," he stated. "He's one of those guys who doesn't necessarily look the part, but because of great skill and intensity -- as far as I'm concerned -- is the best out there."

Ultimately the question comes down to whether or not Ulbrich sees himself possibly competing in MMA when his pro football career is over.

"This offseason I'm going to get more involved in the sport, but unless I could be very successful at it, I wouldn't step in there," he said. "I'm not one of those guys that thinks that just because I played in the NFL that I can go in and dominate any sport. I understand that MMA takes years to be successful at.

"I would definitely considering doing a small show or something like that after a couple years of training, but I won't make any predictions that I could hang with the big guys."

From fan to training to possible second career, Ulbrich is more than just a casual MMA passer-by; he has a true love and enthusiasm when it comes to the sport.

"I have a ton of respect for MMA. I think it's one of the most challenging -- if not the most challenging -- sport out there," he concluded. "If you like MMA you probably like football and if you like football you probably like MMA, so I'm sure we share a lot of the same fans."